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Posts tagged ‘idolatry’

The Process of Developing a Life-Controlling Problem

SOURCE:  Living Free

John and Becky are 50-year-olds who attend church every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. To look at them on Sunday morning, it would seem they are a happy Christian couple; however, the police know their address very well. During the last two years, they have become regular visitors to this home.

There are two life-controlling problems in this home.

John has uncontrolled anger, and Becky, though frequently physically and verbally abused, covers for his violent behavior because she believes it is the Christian thing to do. This violent behavior and unhealthy cover-up have gradually worsened over the years. John, who was abused by his father when he was a child, has been abusing his wife for years, but it has escalated to the point where her wounds can no longer be covered up.

These mastering problems have not only trapped John and Becky, but because they have been covered up and not dealt with, their children have also been caught in this web of pain.

A life-controlling problem is anything that masters (or controls) a person’s life. Many terms have been used to describe life-controlling problems. Someone may speak of a dependency, a compulsive behavior, or an addiction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul uses the word stronghold to describe an area of sin that has become a part of our lifestyle when he writes that there is divine power to demolish strongholds.

The easiest life-controlling problems to identify are harmful habits like drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling, tobacco use, and the like. Life-controlling problems can also include harmful feelings like anger and fear. The word addiction or dependency can refer to the use of a substance (like food, alcohol, legal and/or illegal drugs, etc.,), or it can refer to the practice of a behavior (like shoplifting, gambling, use of pornography, compulsive spending, TV watching, etc.). It can also involve a relationship with another person. We call those relationships co-dependencies.

The Apostle Paul talks about life-controlling problems in terms of our being slaves to this behavior or dependency that masters us. He writes in Romans 6:14, Sin shall not be your master. In 1 Corinthians 6:12b, he says, Everything is permissible for me ‘ but I will not be mastered by anything [or anyone]. According to 2 Peter 2:19b, A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. Anything that becomes the center of a person’s life if allowed to continue will become master of that life.

Because we live in a world today that can be described as an addictive society, most people are affected in some way by a life-controlling problem — their own or someone else’s. Everyone has the potential of being mastered by a life-controlling problem. No one plans for it to happen, but without warning an individual (and those who care about him) can be pulled into the downward spiral of a stronghold.

Addictions and Idols

Idolatry leads to addiction. When we follow idols, a choice has been made to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions that can be provided only by God. We have a felt need to serve a supreme being; if we choose not to serve God, we will choose an idol to which we will become enslaved. Jeffrey VanVonderen says:

Anything besides God to which we turn, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry: money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ’s performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous: robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything!

Following idols, which leads to addictions, prevents us from serving and loving God freely. All kinds of substance and behavioral dependencies lead to enslavement because everyone who makes sinful choices is a candidate for slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Jesus states in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before me. Sin, when unconfessed, strains the relationship with God that is meant to be enjoyed by the believer (see Proverbs 28:13; Jonah 2:8).

A very controversial question arises: Is an addiction a sin or a disease?

Those who believe addictions are sin point to the acts of the sinful nature which include a substance (drunkenness) and behavioral (sexual immorality) problem in Galatians 5:19-21. Another reference to the sinfulness of addictions is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which shows that a definite change occurred in the lives of the Corinthian Christians: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Those who believe addictions (particularly alcoholism and other chemical dependencies) are a disease state the characteristics are progressive, primary, chronic, and fatal. In the latter stages, the victims are incapable of helping themselves because there is a loss of control and choice. In the 1950s the American Medical Association voted approval of the disease concept of alcohol dependence. The term disease means deviation from a state of health (Minirth, 57).

When sin and addiction are compared, they show similar characteristics. Both are self-centered versus God-centered and cause people to live in a state of deception. Sin and addiction lead people to irresponsible behavior, including the use of various defenses to cover up their ungodly actions. Sin and addiction are progressive; people get worse if there is not an intervention. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later saw him at the temple. Jesus warned him about the progressiveness of sin: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you (John 5:14). Sin is primary in that it is the root cause of evil. Sin produces sinners as alcohol causes alcoholism. Sin is also chronic if not dealt with effectively. Finally, sin is fatal with death being the end result.

Although addictions do have the characteristics of a disease, I must stand with the authority of God’s Word as it pronounces various addictions as being a part of the sinful nature (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). They are sinful because God has been voided as the source of the solution to life’s needs, and these choices often develop into a disease. A noted Christian psychiatrist says:

Physiologically, of course, some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, even after one drink. And often guilt drives them to more and more drinking. But then some people also have more of a struggle with greed, lust, smoking, anger, or overeating than others. Failure to contend with all of these is still sin (Minirth, 57-58).

Anything that becomes the center of one’s life, if allowed to continue, will become the master of life. If God is not the center of a person’s life, that person will probably turn to a substance, behavior, or another person for focus and meaning. David describes his enemy in Psalm 52 as one who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others (v7).

The young, rich ruler described in the gospels (see Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) came to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. When Jesus told him he would have to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, the young man went away sad. This rich man’s stronghold was the love of money. Everybody, not only the rich, must guard against this greater love of the rich young man. Paul writes: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

This stronghold, the love of money, is the root cause of most addictions that plague our society. Although alcohol is a major cause of deaths, sicknesses, broken families, and relationships, it continues to be advertised with marketing strategies which appeal even to America’s high school and elementary-aged children. The demand for cocaine and other substances would soon cease if there were no profits to be made. Sexual addictions are fed by an $8 billion industry of pornographic materials, appealing television commercials, and provocative movies. Compulsive gambling is fed by state-run lotteries. I wonder how much the love of money contributes to eating disorders. Many young women starve themselves to sickness and even death because of a greedy society that promotes an unhealthy thinness as beauty through media appeal and modeling agencies.

As the creation of God, each of us has a need to be dependent. There is a vacuum in the heart of every human since the fall of Adam and Eve that can be filled only by Christ. After our first parents disobeyed God, they immediately recognized their nakedness. Without God’s covering, they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). They soon learned they could not escape from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8).

It is interesting that Adam and Eve hid among the trees. They hid there because of guilt. Idols, which are false gods, can also become hiding places. Isaiah writes: for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood [or false gods] our hiding place (28:15).

In a life where Christ is not the focus, a person is likely to center attention on a substance, behavior, or another person which will eventually become a god to them. David recognized the need to have God as his tower of strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me (2 Samuel 22:2-3).

The disease concept of addictions should be approached with caution. Assigning addictive substances and behaviors to the disease model tends to overlook the sinful nature of mankind. Although it is popular to label every stronghold as a disease, the Church must warmly care for those caught in the web of deception with ongoing support. It takes more than a pat on the back to cure them of their stronghold. Sinful choices develop into lifestyles that are self-centered and destructive. The fall of man puts us all in need of recovery.

How the Trap Works
Addictions and dependencies generally fall into three categories: substance addictions, behavior addictions, and relationship (interaction) addictions.

1. Substance addictions (the use of substances taking control of our lives)

  • Drugs/chemicals
  • Food (eating disorders)
  • Alcohol Other addictive substances

2. Behavior addictions (the practice of behaviors taking control of our lives)

  • Gambling
  • Compulsive spending
  • Use of pornography/other sexual addiction
  • Love of money
  • Sports
  • Other addictive behavior

3. Relationship (interaction) addictions (You may have heard a relationship problem like this referred to as co-dependency. )

Everyone has the potential of experiencing one or more of these life-controlling problems at some time. Maybe you find yourself already involved in an addiction or another problem behavior that has taken over your life. Sometimes it is hard to identify a life-controlling problem.

Here are some questions that may help in that process:

Is my behavior practiced in secret?
Can it meet the test of openness or do I hide it from family and friends?
Does this behavior pull me away from my commitment to Christ?
Does it express Christian love?
Is this behavior used to escape feelings?
Does this behavior have a negative effect on myself or others?

These questions help us identify problems that have reached (or are in danger of reaching) the point of becoming life-controlling problems.

The next step is to look at the ways these behaviors and dependencies tend to progress in a person’s life. Researchers have identified a pattern that follows some very predictable steps. Most people get involved with an addiction to receive a feeling of euphoria. Alcohol or other drugs, sex, pornographic literature, gambling, and so forth, produce a temporary high or euphoria.

Vernon E. Johnson, the founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, has observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them . . . we came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency. Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: (1) learns mood swing, (2) seeks mood swing, (3) harmful dependency, (4) using to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including myself, can also be related to other types of dependencies although the terminology may differ.

We call it the “Trap” because it often snares its victims before they realize what is really happening.

Every person has the potential of experiencing a life-controlling problem. No one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person’s even being aware.

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Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
All Rights Reserved

When [I] Look Like Satan

SOURCE:  Adapted from a post by  John Piper

When People Look Like Satan

God made humans to reflect his image and advance the display of his glory over the created world (Genesis 1:26–28). But Adam failed in this commission.

Rather than have dominion over the serpent he succumbed to its craftiness. As Greg Beale explains, “Instead of wanting to be near God to reflect him, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 [so also 3:10])” (NTBT, 359).

Sin brought chaos and disorder. Things got all messed up. In fact, things became so backwards that Adam could be seen as actually supressing the image of God to reflect the image of the serpent, like a back-story to Romans 1:18–25.

Adam was the first human idolator who became something he was not supposed to become, looking more like the snake than he did his Creator. Beale explains how:

“Idol worship” should be defined as revering anything other than God. At the least, Adam’s allegiance had shifted from God to himself and probably to Satan, since he came to resemble the serpent’s character in some ways.

[He Lied]
The serpent was a liar (Genesis 3:4) and a deceiver (Genesis 3:113). Likewise Adam, when asked by God, “Have you eaten from the tree of the which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11), does not answer forthrightly. Adam replies, “The woman whom you gave me to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Adam was deceptively blaming Eve for his sin, which shifted accountability from him to his wife, in contrast to the biblical testimony that Adam, not Eve, was accountable for the fall (e.g., see Romans 5:12–19).

[He Didn’t Trust God’s Word]
In addition, Adam, like the serpent, did not trust the word of God (with respect to Adam, see Genesis 2:16–173:6; with respect to the serpent, Genesis 3:14–5). Adam’s shift from trusting God to trusting the serpent meant that he no longer reflected God’s image but rather the serpent’s image. . . .

[He Exalted Himself]
[Adam] not only stood by while his covenantal ally, Eve, was deceived by the serpent, but also decided for himself that God’s word was wrong and the devil’s word was right. In so doing, perhaps Adam was reflecting another feature of the serpent, who has exalted his code of behavior over and against the dictates of God’s righteous standard. But, if not, certainly Adam was deciding for himself that God’s word was wrong. This is precisely the point where Adam placed himself in God’s place — this is worship of the self.

G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 359f., headings and full biblical citations added.

Adam was a deceiver. He didn’t trust God’s word. He exalted his standard above’s God’s in the worship of himself. Humans, created to image the majesty of God, rebelled and imaged the character of the serpent. This was the fall.

And it’s not just Adam’s story, it’s our story, too.

Sin is not a thing we can just sweep under the rug. It’s not a little this or that. Oh no. Sin is most fundamentally our acting like Satan instead of reflecting the glory of God.

Think about that for a moment.

Fudging on the truth, spinning things a bit, ignoring God’s word, elevating our reason above what he’s said — these are neither struggles nor foibles, they are Satanic. It is to deny the most fundamental purpose we exist: to glorify God and bear the imprint of his holiness.

One motivation to a life of repentance is to see our sin for what it truly is.

Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?

SOURCE:  From an article by David Powlison submitted by Justin Taylor

THE IDOL FACTORY

David Powlison:

The relevance of massive chunks of Scripture hangs on our understanding of idolatry.

But let me focus the question through a particular verse in the New Testament which long troubled me. The last line of 1 John woos, then commands us:

“Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

In a 105-verse treatise on living in vital fellowship with Jesus, the Son of God, how on earth does that unexpected command merit being the final word?

Is it perhaps a scribal emendation?

Is it an awkward faux pas by a writer who typically weaves dense and orderly tapestries of meaning with simple, repetitive language?

Is it a culture-bound, practical application tacked onto the end of one of the most timeless and heaven-dwelling epistles?

Each of these alternatives misses the integrity and power of John’s final words.

Instead, John’s last line properly leaves us with that most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart.

Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?

It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question.

Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?

The undesirable answers to this question—answers which inform our understanding of the “idolatry” we are to avoid—are most graphically presented in 1 John 2:15-173:7-104:1-6, and 5:19. It is striking how these verses portray a confluence of the “sociological,” the “psychological,” and the “demonological” perspectives on idolatrous motivation.

The inwardness of motivation is captured by the inordinate and proud “desires of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), our inertial self-centeredness, the wants, hopes, fears, expectations, “needs” that crowd our hearts.

The externality of motivation is captured by “the world” (1 John 2:15-17,4:1-6), all that invites, models, reinforces, and conditions us into such inertia, teaching us lies.

The “demonological” dimension of motivation
 is the Devil’s behavior-determining lordship (1 John 3:7-10,5:19), standing as a ruler over his kingdom of flesh and world.

In contrast, to “keep yourself from idols” is to live with a whole heart of faith in Jesus.

It is to be controlled by all that lies behind the address “Beloved children” (see especially 1 John 3:1-3,4:7-5:12).

The alternative to Jesus, the swarm of alternatives, whether approached through the lens of flesh, world, or the Evil One, is idolatry.

Everyday IDOLS: Have One? You Bet!!

What competes with God for your affections?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Stacey Padrick

Riiinnngggg !!!

The doorbell outside the lobby of my apartment building alerted me to an unexpected visitor. I suspected it might be the man I had been admiring for some time. But my immediate thought was, Whoever it is, I can’t answer it! My apartment and I were both a mess, and I was not prepared for a Saturday morning visitor.

After much deliberation, I finally pushed the buzzer to allow him into the building. But by then he had already gone. I felt awful about not answering the door. As I expressed my regret to the Lord, I sensed that something more significant than a mere lack of hospitality had motivated my actions.

“Why was I so reluctant to welcome him in, Lord?” I questioned. Having recently studied the topic of idolatry, the answer hit me hard: I had made my image into an idol. What people thought of me had become too important. Though I could have given 100 softer-sounding explanations, I knew that only this one revealed the root of my response.

“Idolatry? That sounds a little extreme,” one might argue. “Isn’t idolatry about pagans in the Old Testament bowing down before gold or wooden images? We don’t prostrate ourselves before statues; what does idolatry have to do with us today?”

To answer these questions, we must look at the essence of idol worship: the spiritual posture of a worshiper’s heart. When we do so, we will discover that everyday idols are still a strong temptation for believers.

God’s View of Idolatry

In the Old Testament, people looked to idols for provision, meaning, significance, and identity. Worshipers bent their knees in submission and devotion to the idols they believed could save them. When the unfaithful Israelites turned to idolatry, God asked, “But where are your gods which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble; for according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah” (Jer. 2:28, NASB). But God made it clear that only He could save them. “You were not to know any god except Me, for there is no savior besides Me” (Hos. 13:4, NASB). His people were to worship Him alone.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol. . . . You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.

Ex. 20:2–5, NASB

So abhorrent was idolatry in His sight, God commanded the Israelites not to leave even a remnant of the pagan peoples they conquered:

Tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars . . . and burn their graven images with fire. . . . And you shall consume all the peoples whom the Lord your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.

Dt. 7:5, 16, NASB

Yet despite these clear commands, book after book in the Old Testament drips with the tears of those who strayed to follow false gods. When the Israelites failed to destroy the pagan altars as God instructed, the idols of those nations ensnared their hearts. Though the prophets entreated God’s people to repent many times, Israel continued to live in rebellion. In righteous wrath, God ultimately responded by destroying Jerusalem with plagues, famine, war, and captivity (Ezekiel 6–11). Clearly, God took His people’s infidelity very seriously, and His response was severe.

Promises, Promises

“But that was in the Old Testament. Do we need to be concerned about idolatry today?” some might ask. We, too, fall prey to serving other gods by sacrificing the best of our time, energy, and attention to them instead of the Lord. Idolatry today takes many forms, from careers, entertainment, technology, and relationships to physiques, fashion, stock portfolios, and cars.

Though the shapes of contemporary idols may differ from those in the Old Testament, the temptation of idolatry—looking to something other than God for what only He can provide—remains strong. In the New Testament, Paul admonishes, “My beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14, NASB). No matter what the century, idolatry threatens to ensnare God’s people.

But we must go further than simply identifying the typical idols in our culture. For the sin of idolatry does not lie primarily in the object we worship, but in the act of worshiping anything other than God. The root of idolatry lies within us, for we set up idols in our hearts (Ezk. 14:3).

God created us with hearts that long to worship. Ever since the fall, Satan has corrupted our passion to worship the Creator and redirected our hearts toward created things. The problem, then, is not that our hearts are prone to worship, but that they are prone to wander. “Thus says the Lord to this people, ‘Even so they have loved to wander'” (Jer. 14:10, NASB).

When we allow anything apart from God to rule us, compel us, or control us, we have created an idol.

For example, does God want us to love our family and children? Yes! But when we allow these God-given gifts to define our worth and value, we make them into idols. Martin Luther pointed out, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God.” We worship idols when we look to something other than God to fulfill our deepest needs, satisfy our longings, give us hope, or define our identity.

Many idols are not inherently “bad.” Money, for example, is not a bad thing; the love of money is (1 Tim. 6:10). God’s blessings—love, family, hard work, exercise, food, sex, ministry—become idols when we begin to set our hearts on them above God. John Calvin observed, “The evil in our desires typically does not lie in what we want, but that we want it too much.”

Idols promise everything we desire: love, acceptance, worth, happiness. But they deliver bondage. Glistening like a spider’s web, idols intrigue and lure us but ultimately ensnare our hearts and lives. The lie of the idol hisses: “You cannot be truly fulfilled or have significance unless you have _____.” We begin thinking, Unless that person esteems me, I am of little worth. Unless I am married, I cannot be fulfilled. Unless I graduate with honors, I’m not valuable. Unless I have a date to the prom, I am a nobody. Unless I work at a well-known company . . . Unless my children excel at school … Unless I am financially successful. . . . But these idols can never deliver us or save us; God alone claims that privilege, and He asks us to set our hearts upon Him, not the things of this world (Col. 3:1–3, 1 Jn. 2:15–17).

Destroying the Destroyers

Our enemy diligently seeks to keep us enslaved to idols. Satan will whisper that our idols are harmless and insignificant, certainly not worth the effort it takes to destroy them. But when God’s people did not totally destroy their idols and those of their captives, idolatry plagued the Israelites for generations. When we allow anything to usurp God’s place in our hearts, we estrange ourselves from Him (Ezk. 14:5).

God wants to set us free from enslavement to false gods. Following are some ways we can begin to unshackle ourselves from the idols in our lives.

Unveil them. As we have already begun doing, we must detect and expose the idols in our lives. Prayerfully consider the following list of questions. They are designed to help you unmask any idols in your heart.

  • What preoccupies or rules my heart? Thoughts? Time?
  • What compels me? Controls me? Drives me? Motivates me?
  • To what does my heart cling?
  • What competes for my time with God?
  • What gives me a sense of worth? What defines my identity before others?
  • What do I crave?
  • If everything else were taken away, what is one thing I could not bear to live without?
  • Am I looking to something or someone to provide what only God can?
  • What do family or close friends think may be idols in my life? (Often others can see more clearly what we are too close to see.)

Remember, idols are not necessarily “bad” things. We can make idols of good, even “spiritual,” things. The Israelites worshiped foreign gods not only on pagan altars but even on altars within God’s own temple (Ezk. 8:16). Similarly, we may also erect false gods on altars within our churches and ministries. Consider the following potential idols:

  • Our strengths. Our culture and pride tempt us to rely upon our own strength, yet God calls us to depend wholly upon His strength.
  • Our gifts. We are often prone to rely more upon our God-given gifts than upon God’s Spirit to empower our ministry.
  • Our ministry. No matter how worthy our ministry, if we make it our central focus, we’ve created an idol.
  • Our productivity. We look to our achievements and accomplishments to validate our worth before God and others.

Repent of them. “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Repent and turn away from your idols'” (Ezk. 14:6, NASB). Isaiah instructs us in what to do with our idols: “Throw them away like a menstrual cloth!” (Is. 30:22). For some, that might mean throwing away (or at least fasting from) the things that hold sway in our hearts: TV, a leadership responsibility, a form of entertainment, a material item, coffee, a relationship. For others it may mean limiting the amount of time, money, thinking, or energy expended on potential idols. Dedicate the time previously devoted to an idol (such as working overtime, watching sports, surfing the net, serving on a church committee) to the Lord. Sit at His feet and delight in Him.

Again, none of these pursuits is necessarily wrong, but if we find ourselves serving them with the best or the bulk of our time, energy, and devotion, we may be worshiping them as idols.

Return to unadulterated fellowship with God. “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hos. 14:1, NASB). God is jealous for our hearts and devotion. Just as a husband would grieve if his wife desired another man, so God grieves when we turn to false gods and become enamored with them: “How I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols” (Ezk. 6:9, NASB).

Yet, knowing our waywardness, God reaches out to restore our fellowship with Him.

“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord. “I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious. . . . I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God. . . . Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness.”

Jer. 3:12–13, 22, NASB

And again in Hosea, He promises, “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely” (Hos. 14:4, NASB). In His ultimate act of love, God took the initiative to reconcile us through Christ while we were yet sinners (Ro. 5:8).

Vigilantly guard against new idols. Just when we think we have forever banished false gods, idols in new clothing will arise to tempt us. John, like Paul, warned his readers, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21, NASB). When we move to a new place, develop a new relationship, or enter into any new circumstance, dazzling idols lure us to worship them.

For example, when I moved to England to pursue graduate work, an air of intellectualism pervaded the university. I found myself prone to overly esteem well-known scholars in my field and to base my self-worth upon my academic performance.

More recently, I moved to San Francisco, a very image- and fashion-conscious city. Here I must guard my heart against allowing my appearance to become a god that I serve with my time, money, and energy. I must also be careful not to trust in my appearance to establish my sense of worth as a person.

At Rest in God

On any given day, our hearts are prone to wander. We must continually ask ourselves, “Who or what is ruling my thoughts and behavior: the Lord or an idol?” Idolatry drives us to seek life from false gods; they are never capable of providing it. As we devote ourselves to knowing God more intimately, we will be less likely to buy into the lies of false gods when they promise what only He can deliver.

We are a worshiping people, created to freely worship and serve God. He abhors idolatry because He knows that when we serve anything else, it will enslave and ultimately destroy us. Only worshiping Him will satisfy our soul’s deepest hunger for the food we’ve been craving in idols. Only in worshiping God, and God alone, can our hearts finally rest.

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: A BROADER VIEW OF ADDICTION

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

For practical reasons, many experts are taking a broader view of addiction, a biopsychosocial one.  They view substance abuse as a complex condition and endorse multiple strategies for dealing with it.  Using drugs and alcohol may serve any number or purposes – avoiding responsibility, medicating emotional pain, dealing with a difficult relationship, etc.  These behaviors are inadequate ways of coping with the underlying problems that sustain them.

*God in a Bottle – If there were one reason above all others for people becoming addicts, it would be a spiritual one.  People worship their addictions.  Ironically, for them, spirits replace the divine Spirit.  It is a form of selfishness or self-idolatry.  The feeling of power and exotic excitement in addiction is an attempt to rise above the routine of living.  For this reason, many label addictions idolatry.  It is obviously so, since the addict’s center of life has become the substance/behavior to which he or she is addicted.  Addicts testify that nothing else mattered to them once they became hooked – not family, health, pleasure – nothing was more important to them than satisfying their craving for a fix.

The Old Testament describes idolatry as putting something in front of God.  When God commands that we “have no other gods before” Him, idolatry/addictive behaviors consist of putting something/anything in front of God, disguising and distorting God’s true face.  Every sin emerges from the fact that God is no longer first in our lives but is concealed by something created.

Viewing addiction as a form of idolatry should encourage us as Christians to be confident of our own spiritual resources to treat it.  Salvation through faith in Christ and sanctification through reliance on the Holy Spirit strike at the heart of idolatry.

*For Pleasure or Escape – Addicted people are crippled by their past experiences, unable to choose and exercise responsibility for their behavior.  Some use addictive behaviors as a way to escape emotional hurt sometimes sourced in their troubled childhood family.  People often use addictions not to make their hearts happy but to put their souls to sleep.  When people use addictive behaviors to escape suffering, they fail to cope with their problems in functional ways.  This only compounds their problems, which don’t go away but remain to keep nudging them to return to their “drug” of choice to escape.

Dependence is learned as a result of living in a family where a behavior is rewarded one time and punished the next.  Children learn to be dependent on cues from their environment to know how to act.  They are often not taught to follow their feelings but rather to follow the actions of another – to react as opposed to act.  The perceptive child grows to learn how to watch the family so that under each changing set of circumstances he or she will know how to act.  When the cues keep changing and the consequences for mistakes are severe, the child becomes dependent on these external cues to know what to do.  By training themselves to trust only external cues, not only do children learn dependency but they also perceive that feeling good can come only from a source outside of themselves.  This helps explain why children of addicts learn to depend on others and not themselves in a relationship.  Once addiction becomes a problem for them, addicts will continue to use the substance/behavior not so much to obtain enjoyment but to blot out the pain of the disastrous effects their heavy use is causing them.  They then search for more relief from the addiction moving farther into the process of addiction.  Sobriety means giving up their maladaptive way of coping with their emotions and their troubles.  Recovery must include making major life changes.

*Relational and Trust Issues – Sometimes addictive behaviors are blamed on others and other relational factors can be involved in addictions.  One’s acting out might keep the focus of the problem on the addict rather than other family members.  Some use addictive behaviors to draw attention to themselves and excuse themselves from their responsibilities.  Addictive behaviors can be used to control others through manipulation or as a way of not being controlled by others.  Addictive behaviors can be used to avoid intimacy and the threat of self-disclosing including the risk of rejection.  Because of not having healthy relationships, those involved in addictive behaviors may not have learned to trust people.  Their emotional isolation from others eventually leads them to establish an emotional relationship with some substance or activity.  They turn to it because it is dependable – they can trust it to give them the lift that they need and the nurture that they are unable to receive from others.  Addictions are dependable; people are not.

*Stinkin’ Thinkin’ – The thinking of one involved in an addictive behavior is distorted.  One’s life can be falling apart, health deteriorating, family in ruins, and job in jeopardy, but he/she seems unable to recognize this.  Family and friends may even be taken in by this “addictive thinking” because the addict sounds convincing to friends, pastors, employers, doctors, and even counselors.  It is difficult to understand if this perverted reasoning is the cause or the result of the addiction.  For example, “Am I addicted because of my intolerable life, or is my life intolerable because of my addiction?”  Once the intense craving begins, it affects the person’s thinking in much the same way as a bribe or other personal interest distorts one’s judgment.  The addict’s need will be so powerful that he or she will think anything that will justify the next fix. Addicts’ illusion of control is part of these rationalizations.  Although their lives have become grossly unmanageable, they steadfastly insist they are still in charge.  They falsely claim they can quit anytime they want.  They do this because they think in terms of minutes, not hours or days.  Recovering addicts must patiently stay sober moment after moment.

ADDICTED? “RE-TIE” TO GOD

SOURCE–Adapted from:  Stepping Stones

Transformational Thought

Tens of millions of people in the U.S. are tormented by compulsive addictions according to the latest statistics regarding substance abuse and compulsive-addictive behaviors. An addict’s primary relationship is with a drug or a behavior, not with himself. Our society, in large part, denies the addiction problem. Treatment centers and state hospitals are closing, program funding is being cut, and insurance reimbursement for treatment is decreasing. The walking wounded are, therefore, on their own to get help for themselves and their families.

Physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological disabilities brought on by addictions are rampant. Major damage caused by drugs also includes the drug environment and the impurities associated with it, namely, secondary infections, especially with illegal drugs. This lifestyle, regardless of the type of addiction, causes a person to be only a shadow of what God intended.

There. That’s the bad news. Now the good news. Have you ever noticed what a bad rap the word “religion” has gotten? It doesn’t seem to be regarded today as the original word suggests. The root word is “ligio” (Latin) meaning to tie or bind together. For example, in a tubal ligation a woman has her tubes tied. “Re-ligio” means that something that was once tied became untied, and it is now re-tied or bound together again. There is no better example than the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve disobeyed God, causing perfect fellowship with God to become untied. God’s plan of salvation, through Christ’s sacrifice once and for all, re-tied us back together into relationship with God for eternity, by His grace alone. He does the work.

Addiction is synonymous with idolatry. When we strongly desire something as much as or more than we desire God, we have given ourselves to a false god, a weak imitation. People have become unbound with God through their addictions. What we give our time, money, and energy to becomes our god. We become like our object of worship. It’s amazing to consider what we pursue to soothe our discomfort, and the dire spiritual consequences we choose to endure for a momentary thrill.

Today, if you have an overt addiction, know that God stands ready and willing to forgive and restore everyone who has been carried away by addictions. Let Him in. Trust His ways, and not yours. Becoming untied causes us to disintegrate. But receiving God’s gift of healing allows us to re-integrate, restoring us to what God intended in the first place! If you don’t have an overt addiction, examine what you go to when you are uncomfortable. If it is God’s word and prayer, awesome. If it is anything else, then you have an addiction and need to wrestle with that. Start to look at why you turn to those other items first.

Prayer

Father God, You are our source and our strength, and a very present help in time of trouble. Deliver us out of the claws of addictions and addictive behaviors. We need Your supernatural strength to overcome the effects of mood-altering chemicals and behaviors that are self-destructive. Heal and restore us in body, mind, and spirit to what You intended us to be. We ask this in the powerful and comforting name of Jesus;  – AMEN!

The Truth

“Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of a sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.”

Galatians 5:16-17

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